This is a review of the anniversary deluxe edition, written for Classic Rock.
There’s a case for saying that we’ve just been through yet another of rock’s golden ages.
The years between – roughly – 1999 and 2008 (please, ‘the noughties’ makes us puke) saw
Jeremiads about the death of guitars once again fail to come to pass. Great years for the
underground but they were also good times for very mainstream bands too, bands you saw on telly that your uncool mates might have heard of too. We got career-best albums from Machine Head, The Foo Fighters, Slipknot, Green Day, Judas Priest and Tool. We had awesome newcomers like Opeth, Mastodon, Coheed & Cambria, My Chemical Romance and The Mars Volta. And even Metallica eventually made a record that wasn’t totally shit.
The first great rock’n’roll release of the new decade/century/millennium was the second
album by Queens Of The Stone Age. Josh Homme never set out to be a trailblazer for
proper rock music, but things just kind of worked out that way. After years when the charts
were dominated by hip hop, pop and R&B, when ‘rock’ was a sickly category, either retro
fallout from grunge or Britpop or heritage acts stumbling onstage to die, here was an album
that sounded the way that a 21st century rock band should. Queens were robust and tough
and vibrant. They were eclectic. Queens had metal, punk rock, prog rock, psychedelic rock,
krautrock, glam rock – every damn variant of cool rock you can think of – wired into their
The opening lines of Feelgood Hit Of The Summer “Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol” serve notice that this is no album by a bunch of businessmen with guitars. It ain’t U2. They were not here to service a demographic or to provide content between the ads on modern rock radio. Yes, oh my goodness, that’s drugs they’re singing about, mum. Cover your ears.
The self titled first QOTSA album was still really a Kyuss album. It was the last ‘stoner rock’ album that Josh Homme made. Rated R was something else again. Produced by Josh and Chris Goss, a long time friend and mentor of Homme’s, it made enough compromises to get the band on MTV without selling the essential soul of the band. It was made with a loose line-up of madmen and geniuses, a gentleman’s club of cool that included Rob Halford, Pete Stahl, Mark Lanegan, Barrett Martin and of course Nick Oliveri.
Even a decade on, the album well played and imprinted on the consciousness, you hear new stuff all the time. Like the robotic beats and repetitive riff on In The Fade, which call to mind both Neu! And The Groundhogs, sounds slippery and different every time you listen to it. Or the mellower low key psychedelia of Auto Pilot, which sounds strangely contemporary, suggesting a direction not taken that other bands could build an entire career around. And at first BetterLiving Through Chemistry sounded like a failed trip hop experiment; now it sounds futuristic and oddball again. Monsters in the Parasol is almost Doors-like, a dark surreal ode to dropping acid in the desert. Rated R progresses from the singles Feelgood Hit of the Summer and The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret through to the discordant brass annoyance at the end of I Think I Lost My Headache. It’s showing off. Homme wants us to know that this is a band that can do anything. You want MTV friendly fodder? He will just fuck you raw with MTV friendly fodder. You ask when Kyuss will reform? They’re still here, at the guts of QOTSA.
Songs For The Deaf, the third album, is arguably the better. But Rated R is still a magnificent work, seeming much bigger and broader than 11 songs over a mere 42 minutes.
To celebrate a decade since its release and generally reactivate interest in this album – it certainly doesn’t need remastering or anything – there’s a bonus disc of live material, most notably the Reading Festival show, as well as -sides and oddities. Like all such discs, it adds precisely fuck all to your enjoyment of or knowledge of this album. It does remind you that the QOTSA live experience is not something to be missed. It pads the box nicely, too.
Whether the new golden age of rock’n’roll is already over is a moot point. Too much tongue in cheek retro, too many bands retreating back to the underground: mainstream rock might be in recession again. Josh Homme has been arseing around with joke bands and ironic supergroups for too long now. Hearing this ought to be the wake up call that demands he get back to his proper work. The next golden age is nothing without him.